What I Know After One Year As A Triathlete

0771_001823On Sunday I’ll be returning to IronGirl Canada, the race that started my triathlon journey just one year ago! Since then, I swam, biked, and ran hundreds of kilometres and learned a few things along the way. While my triathlon journey is still very new and I still have a ton to learn about this whole swim-bike-run life, here are a few important, fun, and/or useful things I’ve learned this year. If you are thinking of making the leap to triathlon or are just looking for something new in your life, I hope the list below shows you that while triathlon training is hard work, you can do it.

1. Swimming is hard. Open water swimming is harder. But it gets better with practice, practice, practice. If there’s one sport you can’t skimp on, it’s swimming! The only way you’ll get more comfortable in the water, is to be in the water, and often. I know heading out to the pool at 6am is tough, but you’ll thank yourself for sticking with it when you experience a major breakthrough!

2. Tri gear will make your life easier. Tri shorts, tri laces, tri belt, all these things are great! Tri shorts are long and they stay in place! For someone with “generous” thighs, this is a welcome change from most run shorts which just ride up. Tri laces will never come undone so you’ll never have to stop again during a race to tie your shoes. Tri belts make it so you won’t have to poke any more holes into your favourite race shirts. The tri belt will hold your race bib and allow you to easily move it to your back for the bike and to your front for the run.

3. A Coach will make it better. Let’s face it, triathlon can be a confusing sport! When I started, I didn’t know how to swim and I had never owned a road bike. Luckily, my Coach at Skywalker Fitness is not only a triathlete himself, but is also certified in triathlon coaching. As I transitioned from running to triathlon, my Coach gave me workouts to focus on my weaknesses and build my confidence in the two sports that were new to me. All those hours in the pool and on the bike trainer this winter? I can say they have definitely paid off!

4. Changing your own tire will make you feel like a superhero. This is a skill you just can’t go without in the world of triathlon! The first time I had to do this myself, I used this video from Trek Bikes. The hardest part for me was getting the tire back on after the inner tube had been changed, but with some practice and a whole lot of muscle, it can be done!

5. If you want to do something in a race, make sure you can do it in practice first. I have found this especially true for swimming. If you want to swim 1000m without stopping in open water during a race, make sure you do that exact thing in practice. If you want to run a certain pace off the bike during the race, do that same thing in practice to see if your legs can handle it. This will do wonders for your self-confidence and when the pain gets real during the race,  you can remind yourself that yes, you CAN do this because you’ve done it before!

6. Your body will love the training variety. As much as I love Biking Alisha Jennarunning, I can’t do it 5 days a week. Late last year I had to drop out of my first marathon because my groin started acting up and long runs became very painful. As I took some time away from running last winter, I turned my focus to swimming and cycling which kept my cardio up and my body strong, without the strain on my groin. When I returned to running in the spring, I did so 3 times a week. The variety has kept injuries at bay and my body has never felt stronger.

7. Learning something new as an adult is awesome. I’ll never forget my first training session in the pool. My coach asked me to swim one lap and I barely made it 25m! All I could think of was, I have to do that 40 times to swim 500m! It truly seemed impossible. Today, I can swim that distance without stopping and the journey to get there has been tough and amazing at the same time. For all the times I have wanted to jump out of the pool and quit in the middle of a hard workout, there have been an equal number of times when I have high-fived myself for completing a tough set. Sometimes at the end of the workout I do a few easy laps and just think how beautiful and calming it is to be in the water, learning something new, and treating my body to an amazing workout at the same time. I am so glad I took the plunge and learned how to swim.

8. Clipping In – Just do it. Eek! This one was nerve wracking because everyone around me just kept telling me how many times I was going to fall, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, you will fall, probably as you are trying to unclip. But once you fall you realize it isn’t that bad and you get on with it. You will get faster when you switch to clipless pedals (bonus!) and climbing hills will be easier! I got my pedals put on by the very kind people at D’Ornellas Bike Shop in Scarborough and was taken on my first ride around the block by Olympian and Canadian Road Racing Champion Eon D’Ornellas. Having someone kind and patient teach you how to clip-in and clip-out makes a big difference. If you’re local, I highly recommend you check them out!

9. Apply sunscreen between the swim and bike. This year at the Toronto Triathlon Festival I got burnt! I put on some sunscreen before the swim, but didn’t reapply before the bike and when I got home I quickly realized my mistake…ouch! Luckily, Neutrogena makes a very handy sunscreen spray that’s easy to apply in 10 seconds or less. I will definitely be using this on Sunday to save my skin from the harsh rays of the late morning sun.

Victory Photo10. It’s never too late to become a triathlete.
The oldest woman competing in the IronGirl Triathlon this Sunday is 73. the most competitive age category group is women 40-44 and there are 39 women competing who are cancer survivors. How freakin’ awesome is that? It’s so inspiring to see women of all ages and abilities competing in this sport and doing things they never thought they could do! More than anything, triathlon has taught me the importance of goal-setting, hard work, the joy of learning something as an adult, and the personal satisfaction that comes from knowing you can do something today that you could not do yesterday, and it never stops. In another 365 days I will be a better triathlete than I am today. If you want to start, start today and next year we could be lining up together at the start of IronGirl Canada, doing something we both never thought possible.

I’m serious. If this is something you want to do, start today. tweet me @jennapettinato or email me jenna.pettinato@gmail.com and I’ll hold you accountable to your training, introduce you to the awesome triathletes I know, and support you through this incredible journey. Let’s do this.


Training and Racing in 2014: Lessons and Moving Forward

Mid Summer Night's RunI’m writing my 2014 training and racing season recap earlier than expected, due to an unexpected injury. About 3 weeks ago I started to experience some soreness and pain in my groin, on the right side. Hoping that this was just a temporary issue, I laid off running for two weeks and went to see my physiotherapist. She diagnosed a strain in my pectineus muscle and told me that running with a strain could eventually lead to a tear which would lead to 6 months off running. Not cool. Upon her advice, and the advice of my coach, I tried a gentle 5K on Tuesday and another 5K on Wednesday, but the discomfort remained and actually got worse the faster I ran. Knowing that I couldn’t ignore the pain for 42.2 kilometres, and feeling pretty “off” that my taper was all messed up, I pulled the plug and have postponed my first marathon until spring 2015.

Am I bummed? Yes. Did I cry? Yes, a few times. But, I also realize how lucky I have been this training season to have hit personal best times in all the distances I raced and to have every one of my races go pretty much exactly how I planned, or better. I have learned so much about myself this year, about what I am capable of, where my limits are (and aren’t), and how much faster and further I want to go. Up until this year I had always thought of myself as a mediocre runner and was actually getting slower, rather than faster (thanks anxiety!).

2014 Race SeasonIn June of this year I raced my first all-out 10K and not knowing what to expect, I just ran as fast as I could. To my surprise I finished in 55:54 and bettered that time with a 52:53 at the Ekiden Relay Race. For me, these were times that I hadn’t seen in 2 years, times that I could not run when I was plagued by anxiety, worried that my heart would burst or I would faint if I ran too fast. In the 15k distance, I started the season with a 1:26:58 at the Bread & Honey Race in June and bettered that time with a 1:22:46 at A Midsummer Night’s Run 15k in August. That month I also raced my first Sprint Triathlon in a time of 1:31:35, about a half an hour faster than I thought I could do it in. Finally, in September I ran my goal race and achieved the elusive sub-2 half marathon with a time of 1:58:33 at Run for the Grapes. A marathon would have been the icing on the cake, but I have had a good year and I am content.

So what’s next? Well I have given my coach my 2015 training and racing plans and they include a 30K, marathon, half-marathon, 50K bike race, Olympic Distance Triathlon, Sprint Distance Triathlon, and a Half-Ironman 70.3 Triathlon. Writing them all out like that seems a bit crazy, but I trust my coach and I trust myself to achieve as many of these goals as I can, safely, and with a smile on my face. Because if you’re not smiling throughout all this training, what’s the point? The next few weeks will just be swimming, biking, and strength training as this silly groin strain heals, but I hope to be back to running before the beautiful fall weather leaves us. I am a bit obsessed with my indoor bike trainer right now and am looking forward to spending many sweaty hours indoors this winter riding.

If 2014 was the year of rediscovering my abilities, 2015 is going to be the year of going beyond them and reaching new heights in distance and speed. Since I am going to have to wait another 6 months to run a marathon, I have set myself an ambitious time goal (which my coach fully supports) and I am going to train my ass off to get there. Is it going to hurt? Yes. Are there going to  be days when I don’t want to run? Of course. Am I going to let that stop me? No freakin’ way.